1534 Finding Francie Fox
Red Fox Road
by Frances Greenslade
Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada (Puffin), 2022 (hardcover, 2020)
$11.99 / 9780735267831
Reviewed by Cassidy Lea
If you ever got lost in the woods, what would you do? What would you need to survive? An axe, maybe some fishing gear, enough dehydrated food to feed you for a couple of weeks? How long do you think you could last with a sleeping bag, a survival guide, and a bag of mints? Wilderness survival has always fascinated thirteen-year-old Francie Fox, and when a family trip goes awry she has the chance to discover just how much survival knowledge she’s gathered over the years.
When Francie and her parents decide to take a short cut down a logging road as they drive down to the Grand Canyon, they end up stranded in the Colorado woods with a busted oil pan. Francie suddenly has the chance to put her survival skills to use: she can build fires, make fir needle tea, and refer to the survival guidebook she’d bought at a garage sale. But when her Dad walks off to get help and a few hours stretches into a few days, the stakes start to get much higher. And when Francie wakes up one morning to find that her mom has also left to get help, she’s forced to rely on the survival knowledge she’s gleaned over the years and must draw on an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed. As the loneliness creeps in, so do the thoughts she’s been trying so hard “to keep from coming to the surface” (p. 191). Thoughts about herself, her parents, her mom’s mental health struggles, and how her family of three was once a family of four.
Yet interspersed in the darkness of the Colorado forest and the constant struggle to merely stay alive are the good things too. The beauty of the nature surrounding her, the memories of times spent with her Grandma at the lake, and the friendships she’s developed over the years with an understanding teacher at school and a neighbour boy who looks out for her. More than that, as she works to survive on her own, she learns that “It’s better to face things…. Sometimes hiding from something makes it seem scarier” (p. 162). And bit by bit, Frightened Francie gives way to “Fierce Francie” (p. 93). Francie’s story of survival happens against the backdrop of her very real life, and readers are quickly pulled into her internal world. Between gathering dandelion leaves and searching for water, readers are invited to consider with Francie aspects of friendship, love, compassion, and forgiveness. As with any good book, the question of “What will happen next” will keep readers in the woods with Francie until the very last page.
Frances Greenslade’s novel deals with issues concerning loss, mental illness, and the complicated relationships that exist within families with both sensitivity and frankness. The way we love and cope with grief and deal with other’s shortcomings are all explored in ways that are at once candid enough to be coming from a teenager’s mind, and also mature enough to offer some insight to readers. This is the perfect book for outdoorsy teens who have ever wondered how they’d survive in the woods, and for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the intricacies of the human experience. Younger readers may find some of the elements of the story distressing, but the narrative provides a good opportunity to engage with preteens about some difficult subjects, and to have discussions about responding with resilience to death, mental illness, and complicated family dynamics — as well as what to do if you ever get stranded in the woods.
Greenslade’s prose is enchanting, and the world she creates is vivid and so close to real life that it is also familiar. Her descriptions of dreams and memories are relatable and authentic, and her attention to detail, both in describing Francie’s surroundings and life story, and also the nitty-gritty of wilderness survival, keeps you reading until the very end. Readers will find it easy to lose themselves in this gripping and all consuming account of Francie’s journey to be found.
Red Fox Road is a haunting and honest portrayal of how one girl comes to a deeper understanding of herself, her family, and the trauma that has shaped them. Deeply emotional, Greenslade’s book presents a spellbinding tale melding beauty with brokenness that will linger with the reader long after the last page.
Cassidy Lea is a Thompson Rivers University Alumnus with a double Major in English and Psychology. She loves reading and writing, but isn’t too fond of arithmetic. She enjoys going for walks, curling up with a good book, and spending time with her family. Editor’s note: Cassidy Lea (writing as Cassidy Jean with Ginny Ratsoy) has also reviewed a book by Natelle Fitzgerald for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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